Gamer Escape Exclusive Interview: ‘Fighting Is Magic’ Devteam

I recently had the chance to work with the Mane6 team to bring together this – what turned out to be – Particularly amazing interview. Mane6 are currently developing the My Little Pony-based fighting game Fighting Is Magic, which has caused quite a stir not only in it’s own fandom, but also with the fighting community as a whole.

Updates on the game can be seen at Mane6. As of posting this interview, Applejack’s VA has been found, and a huge Game Update has been posted on Mane6‘s official site.

 

Fighting Is Magic Post-Stream Developer Interview

I recently had the chance to work with the Mane6 team to bring together this – what turned out to be – Particularly amazing interview. Mane6 are currently developing the My Little Pony-based fighting game Fighting Is Magic, which has caused quite a stir not only in it’s own fandom, but also with the fighting community as a whole.


Klisk: Having used Fighter Maker 2k in the past, I believe you guys have made the right choice over Mugen, especially in the regard of presenting a professional game and experience for the players.

That being said, have you run into any drawbacks with FM2k, especially considering it’s age? Despite the rumors, I think its safe to say the engine won’t be receiving a new version any time soon.

Nappy(Animator/Assistant Programmer): At the beginning of this project, it felt like we were stuck with a weak engine with strict limitations, but as the months went on, we rapidly figured out a whole lot of tricks that made it work very well for us. The engine itself is old and very basic, but it’s these boundaries that allowed, if not REQUIRED creativity to overcome any obstacles that came our way. Building our game has been a game in itself!

Prominence: Hm. Well, the biggest issue we’ve run into is palettes. Because of the engine’s archaic file type limitations, we ran into early issues with exporting our sprites from Flash to an acceptable .bmp format that allowed us a smaller palette we’d be able to change with any kind of accuracy. It took us over a month JUST to figure out a method around that, and personally I cringe whenever the topic of palettes comes up now just because it’s still such a huge time sink. Aside from that, nothing that particularly bothers me – aside from maybe the limited variable system.

Jay: The engine is not great but it does all the basics easily. The problems come when you try to do slightly more than is advertised. None of us are really ‘programmers’, but between us we have figured out quite a few creative solutions to the stuff we want to do. The variable limitation (16 system variables) is probably the only truly absurd thing about the engine, since even a terribly old computer can handle millions. The personal satisfaction of solving complex problems with simple tools somewhat makes up for the hassle.

 

Klisk: About the engine, how was the coding process? I was surprised to see the combos and wall-bounces in the recent livestream. Were there hurdles to make this happen? Vanguard Princess is usually the benchmark for FM2k engine games, and Fighting is Magic even in this early version seems to have surpassed it.

Nappy: After spending months on end literally waking up, loading up a bunch of fighting game streams/recordings, and watching them until bedtime.. All of the info absorbed from the gameplay and the very informative commentators helped us set up a basic rule set for an exciting fighting system. As stated before, the engine is very basic, but those hurdles only exist for you to jump over them.

Prominence: Actually, the wallbouncing wasn’t very difficult at all. Due to the nature of Twilight’s particular makeup, however, getting combos/gatlings to an acceptable state with her proved difficult. In all honesty, Vanguard Princess, while certainly very pretty, doesn’t quiiite appeal to me personally in terms of how I like my fighting game physics. It feels too… ’stiff’, I guess, is the best word. You need very specific timing on button inputs, and the physical moves, to me, lack fluidity – though they are admittedly far and away the best I’ve seen with any game made in Fighter Maker 2K.

Jay: The engine does not have a lot of the advanced stuff built in, but you can put a lot together with the simple building blocks it offers. The hurdles to make it happen are simply figuring out which building blocks we need to put together and in what way.

 

Klisk: Regarding the livestream, how do you guys now feel about the project after seeing the huge reaction? I can imagine it being at Evo quite easily once it is complete.

Nappy: We are never prepared for the response. We started out showing screenshots, and some people flipped.. We uploaded our first video, expecting 200 – 300 views tops. We then proceeded to reach and then surpass that in a couple minutes! I guess the best way to describe any of it, at least on my end is… overwhelmed. I jokingly said we’d get around 500 viewers during the livestream, and I felt like I was setting the bar extremely high. 3200+ viewers showed up. WHAT?! My world was completely rocked. As for having FiM at EVO in any way shape or form? My body will never be ready.

Anu (GUI Designer/Community Manager/Team Parasprite): We were not prepared! That’s actually come to bite us in the flank a couple of times now, when we’ve planned stuff for a certain benchmark that we consider high, and not only we reach it but beat it and go way past it. We’re still learning our reach a bit there, and just how much people have been following our project. It’s been a great ride, actually, since it’s not only been a huge reaction, but also a positive one. It means we’re going on the right direction, me thinks.

When we started the game we were planning for a small, little project, with emphasis on quality, but still a small project. Never did we imagine that mainstream giants on the gaming industry would be discussing us… Having FiM at EVO still sounds somewhat of a dream; As Nappy said, our collective body will never be ready.

Prominence: Pretty much what they said. We kept expecting small numbers, and getting ten times that. It’s taught us that we have a lot more people looking at us than we expect – It is my personal hope we don’t let that get in our heads…

Evo? I’d be honored, but to be frank I’m not expecting it to show up there. It would be nice if I was wrong, however.

Jay: I love how many people love what we are doing. I can’t say I’m surprised that people love it, I mean, WE love it, so there must be more out there who do – But I was definitely surprised at the sheer volume of interested people!

 

Klisk: What games have influenced Fighting is Magic? It looks like a mix of Guilty Gear, Blazblue, Melty Blood, and other “anime” fighters. Would you qualify it as such, or do you feel the game will have more MVC2 elements later in development? Basically, are you aiming for a more “eastern” or “western” marketed fighter? (Ignoring the fact that Capcom is a Japanese developer, naturally.)

Nappy: You hit it right on the nose, there. Our primary influences are definitely games like Blazblue and Melty Blood. We originally wanted to go MvC2 style, and while it’s (barely) possible with this engine, the way it’d have to be done would require such an immense amount of extra busy work (we’d basically have to make each character 17 times, if not more) and a lot of fancy tricks that it’d be crazy.

Prominence: [Nappy] Pretty much said it all. Can’t really add anything more. Please don’t call this a ‘Doujin’ fighter, though. (Not saying this to you, just to anyone who reads this and might be posting about it.)

Jay: That’s a difficult question because there are 2 or 3 people working in the engine, 3 of us animating, and 5 or 6 people offering input on game mechanics. Sometimes our visions align, sometimes they don’t! It does seem to be turning out more like a Japanese or ‘anime’ fighter as you say. It wouldn’t take much to change the feel of the game completely though (make timings more or less lenient, make combos more or less difficult, make supers more or less important to winning, changing the way air combos work). Bear in mind this is our FIRST fighting game ever. Some ideas we have aren’t consciously influenced by any game, even if it turns out we are completely copying some obscure fighter none of us have heard about.

 

Klisk: We got a leak of Rarity’s idle animation during the stream. You guys know how to troll your audience. Any idea when the next sneak peak will be streamed?

Anu: Rarity’s leak was totally Leedin’s fault. Good job breaking it, hero. As for when the next stream will happen: Soon. We don’t like to announce dates for game-related stuff until we’re at least 90% sure they’re happening when we say they’re happening; We don’t want to fall into “Valve/Blizzard time.” Even then, sometimes stuff happens. Last stream was at half a pony’s hair to get re-scheduled due to the hurricane aftermath frying Nappy’s system.

Nappy: Sneaky Leedin is sneaky. We quickly escalated from showing single attack animations every few days/weeks to showing an entirely new combat system in motion along with most of another completed character’s moveset, new moves for AJ, and supers. We had already blown the lid off of a whole lot of things all at once! We want to make sure everything is nice and presentable before we show any more. No definite date on that, yet!

Prominence: Aye, I was kinda…psh, I expected it, but hoped it didn’t happen. I was lagging a bit, but when I saw all the text and whatnot, it didn’t take long to figure out – and, well…yeah.

Leedin: Rarity deserved some spotlight! I regret nothing! :P Truthfully, the lighthearted atmosphere in Mane6 is one of the best perks.

Jay: We are as excited about seeing the characters come together into a real solid form as any of our fans, and when we animate or program or draw something we are proud of we naturally want to share it as soon as possible. We just have to balance that with keeping some things a surprise and not revealing too much in case we have major changes down the line. This is really only a problem due to the unexpectedly huge attention this game has gotten. We aren’t professionals (in this area) so having to please and excite a huge varied audience was a little unexpected.

 

Klisk: Currently, what character asides from AJ and Twilight has priority for being finalized and revealed from the mane 6? My guess is Rarity (she is the best mane 6 pony after all,) but perhaps you guys have other plans? Or are you working on all the characters simultaneously?

Anu: Brohoof for Rarity is best poni.

Nappy: Oh Pinkie Pie, you’re so random.

Prominence: Whoever makes it out of the gate next.

Leedin: You have excellent taste, my friend.

Jay: Based on the others responses I’m almost certain the other guys want me to dodge this question, but the truth is: Haha I got you!

 

Klisk: Aha! Well, after the mane 6 are released, and depending on the popularity of the game, how often do you guys plan to add characters? We know you want a final 17, but that seems like a rough task to get done “soon”. Especially if you want to finalize before Evo. Still, even if the game doesn’t make it for Evo (and rest assure the community will likely get it there), I imagine there will be a huge following at places like Next Level arcade, which often streams so-called “poverty” fighters thanks to Sp00ky.

Anu: We’d like to make character updates a regular occurrence, but we can’t really give an estimate. Saying a pony a week, or a month, for example, would be a recipe for disaster, as they don’t need only to get developed, sprited, and added to the engine, but also tested and tweaked. Each new character we add needs to be tested and re-tested against the previous ones, so while the first update will have seventh character tested against the mane 6, the last update will see the character against 16 other fighters.

Still, we’re getting better at pony developing with each character, so It won’t be an update every other solar eclipse, either.

Prominence: Like Anu said. It takes a bit of time getting the characters into the engine and tested, but we’re getting better at getting the specs right in fewer attempts. We’ll try to be as quick as possible, but quick is relative.

Leedin: I can confirm that the rate of development has been steadily increasing relative to the time passed since we began work on Fighting is Magic!

Jay: Lets just say I actually had to think about going on a six week vacation or working animating/engine coding ponies. It was not an easy choice. The process is accelerating (as was mentioned it took me a month and a little insomnia to figure out the palette swap enigma), but there is also no end to fun stuff we WANT to do. At some later stage we will have to put a lot of those things through triage and push for a release so everyone can play the game and start having fun.

 

Klisk: It was mentioned on the stream that FM2k wouldn’t allow for ggpo support. Do you feel that the netcode you are using will be stable enough to promote a competitive online community? MTSP seems to be the way to go for the community, but many people claim Lunaport has better connectivity. In my opinion accessibility for online play should be a priority, so I lean towards MTSP.

Nappy: This is exactly what’s being tested every other day internally. It is true Lunaport has more reliable initial connections, but it also by far has the most desyncs. MTSP is the most useful if someone has open ports and a nice connection to host 100 player lobbies. Because both methods have their benefits, we will be packaging our game with both options, along with tutorials on how to use either.

Prominence: Aye, we decided to split the difference and include both so as to not exclude anyone. I’m personally a fan of MTSP, to be honest. We aren’t really allowed to write netcode with this engine, so we just took what’s available.

Jay: I’m from New Zealand and most of the others are living in the States, so we have the ability to internationally test already! We hope that everyone will be able to play online with minimal difficulty, but as Prom said our options are limited at this stage. Maybe some angel developer will write us some special pony game online netcode?!

 

Klisk: Are you guys looking forward to Skullgirls? Both of your projects seem to have a lot in common, despite the vast differences in gameplay/aesthetics.

Nappy: I’m looking forward to watching tournament matches of this game! The mechanics in play intrigue me quite a bit. I would love to play it myself, but Red Ring [RRoD] is noponies’ friend.

Prominence: …I feel…odd…whenever I hear that name and our game mentioned in the same breath – Largely because I knew someone who worked on Skullgirls, and I asked to join the team and got denied (due to all positions filled). I honestly can’t really say left or right of it, though. I just feel… odd. Not bad odd, not necessarily good odd. Just… odd.

Leedin: From what I have seen of Skullgirls, it looks really fun. I especially love the character animation.

Jay: It wasn’t really on my radar to be honest but it does look beautiful.

 

Klisk: How will Season 2 effect the development of Fighting is Magic? Will some characters get cut for new ones, or are the 17 characters still entirely up in the air? (From the stream it sounded like you guys honestly didn’t know your exact plans yourselves!) Basically, will season 2 characters possibly make the cut? No names need to be named, of course.

Anu: Even if it doesn’t look like we have an “exact” plan, we do, actually, have it. And we also think giving everything away will cut the surprise factor for later updates. Without mentioning specific projects, we’ve seen that other pony games release news for every minor change made, and that tends to make for a dull experience as an outsider to the project. We want to keep people hyped :)

Truth is, Fighting is Magic is primarily a Season 1 project. We have the 17 characters planned at least in a rough sketch fashion, and they’re all from Season 1. When planning the roster, we picked the main, iconic characters from Friendship is Magic. We looked ahead, in part, to Season 2 and everything it would bring, so that the fighters wouldn’t be outdated when it rolled over.

Prominence: …I won’t kid around. If we DO have plans involving Season 2, I am not aware of them as of this writing. (This is entirely possible.) As for the livestream thing… We know our plans, but it really was kinda a tightrope walk as to what we figured we wanted to reveal and what we figured we should keep under our hats, and at times, we… wavered on the rope, so to speak.

Nappy: Duke Nukem Forever. Feature (and character) creep are exactly what we want to avoid at ALL costs!

 

Klisk: Trixie, Gilda, DJ P0n-3, Photo Finish. Nothing more to be said.

Anu: And nothing that can be answered just yet ;)

Nappy: What?

Prominence: Que?

Leedin: Whew.

 

Klisk: Rarity’s level 3=Opalescence.

Prominence: Heh.

Leedin: :X

Anu: Oh, um…*cough* Hey, Rarity…I…MUSTACHE… I think I hear my laundry calling.

 

Klisk: Sorry, I’m just deliberately antagonizing you guys now. Let’s get serious. So far from what we have seen from the fighting system, combo hits are limited, and you guys want to defeat infinites from the system. Does this mean that no loops will be supported at all (ArcSys style, where the loop ends after several rotations), or do you want to defeat this type of game play entirely? It looked like none of the combos really “locked” in your opponent for long strings.

Nappy: We immediately regretted livestreaming when we did, because the aerial combat was far from presentable. Pretty much the next night we fixed a lot of bugs with the combo counter and aerial hitstun/knockdowns. It’s way better at this point, but we already gave an hour of footage beforehand. Keep an eye out for our next video! There’s a lot more “locking” in involved, and we’ve already discovered several nasty tech traps.

The style of combos we’re going for is sort of like the ArcSys style you described, where a loop can/will be ended early due to limitations to wall bounces/launchers within a combo, and several tech windows. Of course, every time we put something into the engine, it works out quite differently from originally intended, so some completely unique things may arise from the tweaking that can and will go on!

Prominence: Aye, once we finished, I think we… I don’t know. While it was going on, it was nice, but I just personally felt kind of like I had finished eating junk food. Nice while it lasted, but not satisfying in the long term. As soon as it ended we smashed a few bugs and changed/improved the combo system, and it’s a bit more satisfying now. Again, Nappy’s pretty spot on with the rest.

Jay: Personally I’m predicting a serious beta testing phase where we’ll discover how the game WANTS to be played, and tweak it accordingly.

 

Klisk: That seems to be the case with most fighting games, Jay. The combos being limited (in hits) also seemed like a big concern. Are you worried it will make the game less competitive, or are you hoping that the emphasis on basics and fundamentals will make the game more strategic and “OG” so to speak?

Nappy: The combo length and variety increases every few patches. We want a nice middle ground and I think we’re getting close at this point. We started out with an average of 2 hit combo strings. we’re at 18, now. At the moment none of the normal attacks multi-hit on their own except for AJ’s aerial heavy which is usually an ender. There are much more impressive combos possible now that were definitely not possible in the build we showed during the livestream!

Prominence: We should probably change that multi-hit thing… Anywho, I’m not concerned about competitiveness, but not in a ‘don’t care about infinites/super tiers’ way – I’m just particularly confident that the game will be both reasonably balanced and fun to play no matter what happens.

Leedin: Following the stream, a lot has been rewritten and heavily improved upon. You would be surprised at how much integrity and finesse the physics were lacking at the time. It will most certainly also continue to improve. Despite what we already know, we are making a conscious effort to learn as we go.

Anu won’t be pleased until we see Rarity doing 999 hit combos. :c

Jay: To be a competitive game I don’t think you necessarily should be able to kill someone with a 43 hit combo. We are probably too early to tell where the skill will come from. Heck, people were discovering new combos/links in the Street Fighter series 20 or so years after it was released!

 

Klisk: We saw super jumps, we know there will be level 3’s, what about guard shields/guard crush and bursts? It was also difficult to tell if there was an oki roll system, or how tech/recovery works. Any chance you could give us the low down on this, or is it too soon? Will any of the characters have wall grabs? (Example: Taokaka, Vega/Claw, etc.) What about air dashing?

Nappy: We’re testing a lot of possible options there, but it’s too soon to give a definite answer. Yes, at least one character will have wall grabs. There will also be air dashing for certain characters as well.

Prominence: Sad to say, yes, there’s still some stuff we’re testing, but yeah. One character at least will have wall grabs – a character I’ll say I’m rather excited to work on eventually.

Anu: Prom, do you mea-*Shot… Gets dragged back to work.*

 

Klisk: On the stream, it was mentioned that the game would have a 4-button layout (presumably with an extra button for taunt.) Was this decision made because it worked better with the engine, or because of the issues other developers recently had using a 6-button layout? (Skullgirls recently got a cease and desist because their assist button layout was actually patented by Capcom for MvC2. Funny how MvC3 doesn’t even use this layout. Even more ironic, Skullgirls is now using a layout more similar to MvC3 with no objection.)

Nappy: It just worked for what we have planned in the system. A lot of doujin fighters use this button layout, where it’s Light Medium Heavy and the 4th button utilizes a system that is unique to that particular game. Also, for 6 button games, a lot of casual players are just doing jump heavy kick to sweep anyway.

Prominence: Skullgirls got slapped with a C&D? Huh. News to me. And yeah, the button layout we chose just fit – not too elaborate, and at the same time not too simple. It was a good, pleasant medium, in our opinion.

 

Klisk: Recently, you guys were able to select a pretty spot-on Twilight Sparkle VA. Now submissions are open for Applejack. It seems that you’re hiring VA’s as the character development moves along. How has the experience been working with mostly novice VA’s? I imagine that there may have been a few good submissions that, while good, were just recorded on such poor equipment that they couldn’t be considered.

Anu: Pretty much. We received more auditions than we expected, half or so of which had to be discarded due to the recording equipment low quality. We got, however, a handful of submissions with great quality, and even more important, a mostly spot-on voice acting; The Brony [MLP] community has its share of talented people, which has made for pleasant surprises with developing this game. When we ask something out of the community, they answer with more and better things than we could have hoped for.

Picking the VA for Twilight Sparkle was a hard choice for the DevTeam, something that we had to sit down and discuss. In the end, we think Meredith got precisely what we were looking for in Twilight’s VA, and we’re standing by our choice. She’s awesome!

Prominence: It’s an interesting experience choosing voice actors. Some seem to be really excited and hopeful, but then you listen, and you hear that they can’t really voice act their intended character for beans. Kinda makes you feel a small pang in your heart on occasion. Of course, then you find that one that makes you go ‘Yup, that’s the one,’ and that’s that… At least that’s how it is for me, personally.

Leedin: If what we worked with so far was novice, then professional VAs must be talented beyond my wildest imaginations! Just picking a Twilight VA was overwhelmingly difficult. We received a lot of fantastic auditions sporting equal amounts of expertise.

Jay: The recording hardware side of things is a genuine concern yeah, so we have to take that into account.

 

Klisk: Hopefully this will encourage talented people to actually invest in, at least, a respectable microphone.

Have you guys heard from anyone over from the animated series, or even Hasbro themselves? I find it unlikely they would have a problem with this game since there are no profits or donations involved. However, it would be awesome if your project actually got licensed and picked up by Hasbro. If this happened, how hard would it be to port the game over to XBL or PSN? Or would you guys turn down an offer like this to keep it “in the scene”, not to mention free?

Anu: We have gotten linked to some reactions of the animated series crew regarding Fighting is Magic. Lauren made a small comment about us, Jayson Thiessen tweeted our Pre-alpha video, and he made a comment about our game in a Q&A over at reddit, when he mentioned he had sent word about us to Hasbro. The company itself hasn’t contacted us or mentioned us, which has actually been something we’re considering as good (Means the C&Ds are not floating our way!) The Non-profit nature of the game has helped there, we think.

Prominence: Aye, we’ve gotten some reactions, and to be honest, I’m pretty sure Hasbro knows full well about us and is keeping us under observation, as well as probably some other known fangames out there. They haven’t done anything yet, which is good. (If by ‘anything’, you mean ‘anything NEGATIVE to the development of the game, such as calling for a cease and desist’.) If it got licensed and picked up by Hasbro themselves, I’d personally consider that to be fantastic, and would personally jump on that opportunity like white on rice. Game design and development is my overall career goal, and I’ve basically been practicing forms of it all my life, so yeah. As for porting over to XBL or PSN… I don’t even know how hard it would be, but I’d do anything short of sell my soul (specifically, soul. Okay, and maybe not my body!) to get it on there. (Or any game I had a major hand in and felt strongly about, for that matter.)

Leedin: It would be of the highest honor if this was picked up/licensed. I do however wish to mention that there are a lot of more-than-worthy fanmade games in tribute to the show out there that are receiving just as much developing love as we are trying to manage for ours.

 

Klisk: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to the fighting/gaming community that you haven’t yet been able to say outside of the FiM fandom?

Nappy: PREPARE TO GET BODIED BY MY TWILIGHT. Pony money matches, LET’S GO!

Prominence: I implore you not to overlook this game just because of the source material. We’re putting our all into making this a legitimate fighting game, with all of the standard trappings, and while some areas of it may be simpler than other games, I hope that you’ll look and see that sometimes there is beauty in simplicity. (Editor’s note: Less can be more! Definitely pay attention to this.)

Leedin: Thanks for giving this whole crazy thing a glance. :)

Jay: This community and it’s support warms the cockles of my heart. We might not be able to please all of you all of the time, but we are trying very hard not to let you guys down.

 

Thank you for the interview, Mane6! You have definitely answered many of our questions, if not gone beyond the detail required of the questions themselves. The community will surely thank you as well. In the meanwhile, we will be looking forward to Fighting Is Magic, and hopefully your incredible ambition will inspire other players in the community to actually get out there and create their visions, rather than just talk about them.

Klisk